Redo a Canoe for Better Fishing

Rowing kits give canoes speed, power.

Modified canoes should include dry box, nylon paddle leashes, and seat with backrest. In the photo above, note the blocks that raise oarlocks for better paddle clearance in shallows.

The great thing about rowing a canoe, as opposed to paddling, is that it’s fast and easy. The light, narrow hulls are very efficient. And now rowing kits allow you to easily fit a rowing seat and oarlocks to most canoes. I recently fitted a kit to my 16-footer, and the job turned out to be as simple and quick as the results were rewarding and surprising.

The rig I installed came from www.sailboatstogo.com, and cost $207 including 71⁄2-foot spoonblade oars, oarlocks and shipping. All I had to provide was a board that would serve as the seat, and six bolts, nuts and washers to fasten the rowing rig to the board. Spring Creek Outfitters is another source, offering clamp-on rowing systems (www.canoegear.com).

With a hand saw, an electric drill and a set of wrenches, I had the thing put together and on the canoe in about an hour. The directions were clear and easy to follow, which is a good thing because I am no whiz with tools. First I cut a 3⁄4-inch board to match the 36-inch width of the canoe. The board serves two purposes; it acts as a seat and as a mounting surface for the rowing platform. Two elbow-shaped aluminum arms comprise the platform. Once mounted to the board, the platform is affixed to the canoe with two metal clamps. No tools are required to install the platform.

The female part of the oarlock sits in the crook of the aluminum elbow on either side, well outboard of the gunwale, which gives you more room to swing the oars. The male parts clamp onto the aluminum paddles and can be adjusted to the individual. They also ensure the paddles remain parallel to the water. It’s a very efficient system.

One thing I did with mine was to raise the oarlocks a bit higher by blocking them with chunks of two-by-fours. This takes the paddles higher out of the water on the backstroke, and helps keep you from hitting bottom in shallow water.

One of the nice things about the canoe, the aluminum paddles, and the aluminum hardware is that everything is so light compared to a traditional wooden rowboat, bronze oarlocks and wooden oars—the difference in weight is hundreds of pounds. And when I sat down in the canoe and pulled on the oars for the first time, I was amazed. The canoe literally glides through the water. There is no way two guys with paddles could move the same canoe as fast as a single guy rowing.

There are other advantages to rowing a canoe besides speed. If you are by yourself, it puts the weight in the center of the boat. Paddle a canoe by yourself and the balance is tricky because you are at the end of the boat; the stern sits down, while the bow rises high and tends to spin in the wind.

But the best thing about the canoe is it will float in water barely deep enough to get your feet wet. That will get you into a lot of places in Florida that are otherwise accessible only on foot. It’s like a kayak in that, but the canoe has much more storage space and, with the oars, it is at least as fast as most kayaks.

On my first trip after installing the rowing package I donned an inflatable life preserver and rowed about three miles along the south shore of Tampa Bay in less than an hour. Rowing the canoe was incredibly easy. The 71⁄2-foot oars bit the water and the boat jumped forward with every stroke. Even with a slight headwind, the rowing was nearly effortless. The only thing lacking was a backrest for the seat. I solved that with a $32 fold-up seat from Bass Pro Shops, www.bassproshops.com. Cabela’s also offers them; www.cabelas.com.

The view from the canoe seat is not what you get from a poling platform, but the low profile and extreme stealth of the canoe let you get a lot closer to fish than you can in a poling skiff, so sight fishing is still possible.
Wind and canoes do not mix, even in shallow water, and rowing upwind is not fun. But in normal conditions the quiet stealth and mobility of the rowing canoe will come in very handy. I’m not going to be selling my skiff any time soon, but my guess is it won’t get used as much as it used to. FS

  • Bob Oxford

    Or Better yet, get your hands on a used A -Row-Bic. This system was produced in the late 1980s and is by far the pick of the litter. The seat moves, the foot support is adjustable and the entire unit can be transferred from one canoe to another with no modifications necessary. Unfortunately, the company went out of business and so far no one has picked up and run with their design. This is a true rowing machine and has served me well for over 20 years with only an occasional spray of WD 40.

    • Kyle Booker

      do u have a picture of the setup?